Abuse critic apologizes to Baptists

But SNAP leader insists SBC do more on pedophiles

By James Dowd

The Commercial Appeal

February 28, 2007

The leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) acknowledged Tuesday that Southern Baptist leaders had responded to the group's initial concerns about pedophiles, but criticized the country's largest non-Catholic faith group for not doing more.

David Clohessy, executive director for SNAP, apologized for claims made last week that the Southern Baptist Convention ignored letters from the advocacy group calling for increased efforts to identify sexually abusive ministers.

It was later discovered that Baptist officials had replied to a letter sent by SNAP leaders last September, Clohessy said. The error was blamed on misplaced correspondence at the organization's Chicago headquarters.

"They did, in fact, write back to us," Clohessy said. "We apologize publicly and profusely for the mistake."

But SNAP leaders criticized the country's largest non-Catholic faith group for not instituting a national database to identify sexual predators. They also challenged the explanation that Southern Baptist churches operate independently, making it difficult if not impossible to launch such a registry.

"The autonomous system indirectly shields perpetrators and allows them to hide," said Christa Brown, the SNAP-Baptist coordinator. "Southern Baptists are the most powerful Protestant group in the country and if they wanted to develop a system to identify abusive ministers then they could."

Dr. Frank Page, president of the 16.3-million-member group, on Tuesday said he appreciated SNAP's apology and emphasized that Southern Baptist leaders are working to better educate members on how to recognize and prevent abuse.

"We're going to do everything we can to deal with these issues strongly and decisively," Page said. "We are committed to protecting our children and ministering to those who have been hurt by abuse."

But without a hierarchical structure that would make sharing such information easier, Page said churches must remain diligent in protecting their own.

Those comments were echoed at Bellevue Baptist Church, where background checks for staff and volunteers as well as abuse training were implemented after allegations surfaced that a former minister had sexually abused his own son nearly two decades ago.

The church is increasing its security in the preschool and children's areas and a two-month investigation by the Department of Children's Services found no cases of abuse.

"The protection of our members is one of our highest priorities at Bellevue," said Jim Barnwell, communications director at the Cordova church. "We support any effort that aggressively deals with abuse prevention and helping abuse victims."

Acknowledging the need for transparency, Page in turn called on SNAP leaders to share any information about abusive clergy.

"If they have examples of abuse or names of any predators who are ministers in our churches then we're asking them to please let us know" Page said. "We want to prevent our precious children from ever being hurt."

James Dowd: 529-2737

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